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Regulation of drone technology

Regulation of drone technology — Letter from Attorney-General to Privacy Commissioner

5 March 2013

Minister for Emergency Management


Mr Timothy Pilgrim
Australian Privacy Commissioner
GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 2001

Dear Mr Pilgrim

I refer to your letter of 13 September 2012 to the former Attorney-General concerning the regulation of drone technology.  As your letter notes, there has recently been interest in the media and the wider community about the potential privacy impacts of drone technology.

Although the Privacy Act 1988 does not apply to persons acting in an individual capacity, and therefore does not regulate the use of surveillance drones by individuals, the use of drones is regulated in a number of other ways.  The operation of drones is regulated by Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 administered by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Similarly, a number of State and Territory Acts regulate the use of surveillance devices—most likely including surveillance drones—by individuals.  State and territory anti-stalking provisions may also apply to the operation of surveillance drones in some circumstances.

I have written to my State and Territory counterparts seeking their views as to whether the use of surveillance drones is adequately regulated by legislation they administer.

I look forward to working further with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in relation to this matter.

The action officer for this matter is Richard Glenn who can be contacted on [redacted].

Yours sincerely


Mark Dreyfus QC MP

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Correspondence — Attorney-General: Regulation of drone technology

September 2012

The Hon Nicola Roxon MP
Attorney-General's Department
Central Office
3–5 National Circuit

Dear Attorney-General

There is growing interest in the community and media about the use and implications of aerial drone technology, particularly drones with video recording and streaming capabilities.

While drone technology has clear benefits, such technology presents a number of risks through its potential to be privacy invasive. The risk is heightened because drone equipment is increasingly commercially available, and can be easily purchased and used by individuals in their private capacity.

Where an agency or private sector organisation covered by the Privacy Act 1998 (Cth) (Privacy Act) intends to use drone technology, it must do so in accordance with the Privacy Act. This would include giving notice to affected individuals about the collection of their personal information, only using and disclosing the personal information as permitted by the Privacy Act, and keeping it secure.

The Privacy Act does not however cover the actions of individuals in their private capacity, including any use of drones by individuals.

I understand that there are laws governing unlawful surveillance, stalking and harassment that may apply to the use of drones by individuals. It is unclear however whether those laws provide sufficient regulatory protection, including appropriate restrictions on unreasonable uses.

In particular, individuals who may be subject to surveillance via drone technology may not currently be able to seek appropriate or consistent redress across the Commonwealth. The statutory cause of action for privacy that is currently being considered by Government could be useful in this type of situation.

I suggest that it may be timely to review the current regulatory framework to ascertain whether it is sufficient to deal with any misuse of drone technology. It may also be appropriate to raise this issue with the Standing Council on Law and Justice.

Please contact me if I can be of any assistance.

Yours sincerely


Timothy Pilgrim
Australian Privacy Commissioner

September 2012

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